Protests Force Closure of Courts Across California

Los Angeles Police Department commander Cory Palka stands among several destroyed police cars as one explodes while on fire during a Saturday protest over the Memorial Day death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

LOS ANGELES (CN) — After months of closures during the Covid-19 pandemic, state courts in Los Angeles County will be closed again Monday following a weekend of protests, looting and escalating police violence.

LA Superior Court Presiding Judge Kevin C. Brazile ordered all courthouses to shut their doors on Monday.

“Out of an abundance of caution, I am taking the extraordinary step of closing our courthouses” to protect the safety of the public, judicial officers and court employees, Brazile said in a statement.

“This is not a decision I make lightly. But public safety is always our paramount concern,” said Brazile.

Brazile extended previous orders for LA Superior Court’s 38 courthouses to follow a modified schedule last month due to the Covid-19 pandemic and in-person hearings were set to resume June 22.

Over the weekend, the California National Guard was deployed to LA at the request of Mayor Eric Garcetti and Governor Gavin Newsom proclaimed a state of emergency in LA County.

For five days LA County has been rocked by protests across multiple neighborhoods and cities that have spiraled into looting. For the first time since the 1992 Rodney King riots, the National Guard patrolled the city of LA.

Cities across the county have instituted curfews and the LAPD said hundreds of protesters were arrested over the weekend on charges of burglary, looting, vandalism, failure to disperse and others, along with curfew violations.

Faith leaders in LA will march to LAPD headquarters in downtown on Tuesday in a sign of protest during a virtual police commissioners’ special meeting. 

Addressing reporters for the first time since deploying the National Guard, Newsom defended the protests and said they were driven by systemic racism. Newsom, who is white, said the country’s “stain of racism” was rearing its ugly head this time amid a pandemic.

“We have to own up to some very different things; the black community is not responsible for what’s happening in this country right now, we are,” Newsom said during a press briefing at a church in Sacramento. “We have a unique responsibility to the black community in this country and we’ve been paying lip service about that for generations.”

The Democratic governor urged restraint among protesters and law enforcement as protests continue in the Golden State and declined to implement a statewide curfew. He endorsed the peaceful demonstrations but criticized the actions of opportunistic anarchists and other groups seeking to hijack the protests for their own gain. Newsom said a total of 4,500 National Guard troops are available to counties and cities on an as-needed basis.

When asked about reports of law enforcement indiscriminately firing nonlethal rounds into large crowds at the state Capitol, Newsom declined to comment on the aggressive tactic. He added the state will investigate any instance of violence related to the protests regardless of who may have committed it. 

“Are we capable of not just meeting this moment, but capable of doing justice to the moments in front of us,” said Newsom.

San Diego County and Sacramento County superior courts will also be closed Monday due to the civil unrest and because sheriff’s department personnel are expected to be working throughout the evening and needed elsewhere. Santa Clara County courts will be closed after the city of San Jose issued a proclamation of local emergency, Presiding Judge Deborah A. Ryan announced.

San Bernardino, Riverside, San Francisco and Orange counties were set to resume modified court operations on Monday.

Sacramento courts are expected to reopen on Tuesday, but the governor’s office issued an advisory for all government offices downtown to be closed due to the protests.

Courts across California are expected to resume court operations this month with modified guidelines that include physical distancing, face masks worn by all staff and visitors, increased phone services and some virtual hearings.  

California instituted a stay-at-home order March 19 due to the pandemic and courts across the state followed with closures soon after.

The protests have also forced the closure of nearly a dozen Covid-19 testing sites across LA County, according to local officials.

Only two sites remain open in the city of LA, including Dodger Stadium and a health center in South Central LA, and will be the only testing centers for the city through Wednesday. The testing centers opened last month after Garcetti announced free testing for all residents if they were symptomatic.

Garcetti ordered the test sites closed after several police cars were damaged or destroyed in the protests that roiled the county over the weekend.

“We will not stand for police cars being burned,” Garcetti said during a press conference Monday.

LA County’s latest Covid-19 stats show over 55,000 residents are infected with the virus and 2,384 are dead. Over 1,300 Angelenos are currently hospitalized and LA County jails reported the first death of an inmate who died from the virus.  

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